The Noise Project aims to enhance equity in collaborations between science institutions and communities. Equity is so important to our collaboration that we include it in our co-created Community Review Board Agreement of non-negotiables that guide research and evaluation in our communities. In order for researchers to partner with community organizations and work within communities, they must have a deep understanding of equity. We define equity as:
Providing the structure, tools, respect, and support needed to give each member the same opportunity to succeed. Working for equity also means identifying, countering, and/or removing forces and systems that limit opportunities and outcomes.
In this definition, we can see how equity is different from equality. While equality gives all people the same resources, support, and opportunities, equity gives individuals/communities the resources, support, and opportunities they need in order to have the ability to succeed, thus recognizing how various systems of oppression have operated throughout history, and continue to impact marginalized communities. These communities may need more time, resources, space, and support to surpass historic and current barriers than communities that are in positions of relative privilege. While the concept of equality functions as if everyone is starting in the same place, the concept of equity takes historical and present-day barriers into account by understanding that individual and community needs are relative to their circumstances.
One example of how the Noise Project approaches equitable, rather than equality-based, practice is that community partners have the ability to hold private meetings which are only for members of the community. These meetings are not accessible to the lab or institutional researchers unless they are invited to attend by the community partners. However, lab and institutional researchers do not hold private meetings. Furthermore, our project is based on the principles that all meetings, resources, decisions, and conversations must be done in a way that is transparent, accessible, and inclusive to all community partners. This practice is not equal, since community partners and lab researchers do not have the same opportunity, yet it is equitable. This is an equitable practice because it takes into consideration the power difference between community partners and institutional researchers. Researchers are already in a comfortable position since they are working within a system that benefits them and provides them with privilege and influence. In comparison to communities, they have much more power to hold private meetings, make internal decisions, and generally have more influence in the direction of the collaboration. From our research, we know that community partners do not hold this same level of power. To counteract the difference in power and privilege, community partners get a private space to process and communicate together without institutional influence. This practice aims to ensure that community partners have as much ownership and influence over the collaboration as institutional researchers do.
Equitable practices and behaviors can be a part of any social justice movement or issue. To center equity in your community, organization, or team you can think about the historical circumstances that affect your community or group. Think of the ways in which this historical context creates barriers for some and opportunities for others. With this in mind you can reflect on what it would take for all members of your community or group to have the same ability to reach their full potential and thrive.